freespeechlesson_tinkerandbethelhscases.doc

freespeechlesson_tinkerandbethelhscases.doc - TINKER ET AL...

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TINKER ET AL. v. DES MOINES INDEPENDENT COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT ET AL. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES November 12, 1968, Argued February 24, 1969, Decided JUSTICE FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court. Petitioner John F. Tinker, 15 years old, and petitioner Christopher Eckhardt, 16 years old, attended high schools in Des Moines, Iowa. Petitioner Mary Beth Tinker, John's sister, was a 13-year-old student in junior high school. In December 1965, a group of adults and students in Des Moines held a meeting at the Eckhardt home. The group determined to publicize their objections to the hostilities in Vietnam and their support for a truce by wearing black armbands during the holiday season and by fasting on December 16 and New Year's Eve. Petitioners and their parents had previously engaged in similar activities, and they decided to participate in the program. The principals of the Des Moines schools became aware of the plan to wear armbands. On December 14, 1965, they met and adopted a policy that any student wearing an armband to school would be asked to remove it, and if he refused he would be suspended until he returned without the armband. Petitioners were aware of the regulation that the school authorities adopted. On December 16, Mary Beth and Christopher wore black armbands to their schools. John Tinker wore his armband the next day. They were all sent home and suspended from school until they would come back without their armbands. They did not return to school until after the planned period for wearing armbands had expired -- that is, until after New Year's Day. I. The District Court recognized that the wearing of an armband for the purpose of expressing certain views is the type of symbolic act that is 1
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within the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. As we shall discuss, the wearing of armbands in the circumstances of this case was entirely divorced from actually or potentially disruptive conduct by those participating in it. It was closely akin to “pure speech” which, we have repeatedly held, is entitled to comprehensive protection under the First Amendment. First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years. …Our problem lies in the area where students in the exercise of First Amendment rights collide with the rules of the school authorities. II. The problem posed by the present case does not relate to regulation of the length of skirts or the type of clothing, to hair style, or deportment. It does not concern aggressive, disruptive action or even group demonstrations. Our problem involves direct, primary First Amendment rights akin to “pure speech.” The school officials banned and sought to punish petitioners for a
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